Larry Eigner. Photo by Ann Charters. Courtesy Jacket.

Laurence Joel Eigner[1] (August 7, 1927 - February 3, 1996) was an American poet of the 2nd half of the 20th century, a principal figure of the Black Mountain school [2] Charles Bukowski once called him the "greatest living poet."

Life Edit

Eigner grew up in Swampscott, Massachusetts. Eigner was critically palsied as a result of a bungled forceps delivery at birth, and spent most of his life in bed or in a wheelchair. His parents believed that he was incapable of language until he taught himself to use a typewriter in his teens.

As he matured into an artist, Eigner overcame many physical obstacles and limitations to achieve a mastery over the material text, producing his typescripts on a 1940 Royal manual typewriter using only his right index finger and thumb.[3]

Perhaps the best realization to date of the idea of "composition by field" proposed by Charles Olson in his landmark essay "Projective Verse," [4] the physical act of writing took tremendous effort from Eigner. [5]

Larry Eigner authored more than 40 books, among them From the Sustaining of Air (1953), Another Time in Fragments (1967), Country/Harbor/Quiet/Act/Around-selected prose (1978), and Waters/Places/a Time (1983). His work appeared in well over 100 magazines and collections, most notably Origin, Black Mountain Review , L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, and Donald Allen's anthology The New American Poetry, 1945-1960.[6]

Larry Eigner died from pneumonia and other complications on February 3, 1996.[7]

Writing Edit

"Following out from experiments in the work of Cummings, Pound and Williams [...] Larry Eigner’s mature writing is perhaps the best (and most varied) fulfillment we have, to date, of tendencies and possibilities regarding the use of space in poetry gathered into and ‘projected’ out into the future of American poetry by Olson’s theory of composition by field."
Robert Grenier [8]

Eigner is one of the lesser known Black Mountain poets, although he was influential among the next generation's Language poets.[9] Highlighting Eigner's influence on the "Language School" of poetry, his work often appeared in the journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, and was featured on the front page of its inaugural issue in February 1978.

In Ron Silliman's introduction to his anthology of Language Poetry, In the American Tree (Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation,1986)[10] – dedicated to Eigner – Silliman identifies this poet as one who has ‘transcended the problematic constraints’ of Olson's speech-based projectivist poetics.[11]

Eigner has himself pointed out that his poetry originates in ‘thinking’ rather than speech.[12]

Recognition Edit

In 2010, Stanford University Press published The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner, Volumes 1-4 (Vol. I: 1937-1958; Vol. II: 1958-1966; Vol. III: 1966-1978; Vol. IV: 1978-1995). The collection was edited by Robert Grenier and Curtis Faville.



  • From the Sustaining Air. Palma de Mallorca, Spain: Divers Press, 1953; Eugene, OR: Toad Press, 1967.
  • On My Eyes (photos by Harry M. Callahan). Highlands, NC: J. Williams, 1960.
  • Six Poems. Portland, OR: Wine Press, 1967.
  • The Towards Autumn. Los Angeles: Black Sparrow, 1967.
  • Another Time in Fragments. London: Fulcrum Press, 1967.
  • A Line that May Be Cut: Poems from 1965. London: Circle Press, 1968.
  • Air, the Trees. Santa Rosa, CA: Black Sparrow, 1968.
  • The Music, The Rooms. Albuquerque, NM: Desert Review Press, 1968.
  • The Breath of Once-Living Things: In the field with Poe. Los Angeles: Black Sparrow, 1968.
  • Flat and Round. Berkeley, CA: Tuumba Press, 1968.
  • Valleys, Branches. London: Big Venus, 1969.
  • What You Hear. London: Edible Magazine, 1972.
  • Looks Like Nothing / The shadow through air. Guilford, Surrey, UK: Circle Press, 1972.
  • Shape, Shadow, Elements Move. Los Angeles: Black Sparrow, 1973.
  • Things Stirring Together or Far Away. Los Angeles: Black Sparrow, 1974.
  • Anything on its Side. New Rochelle, NY: Elizabeth Press, 1974.
  • My God the Proverbial: 42 poems and 2 prose pieces. L Publications, 1975.
  • The World and its Streets, Places. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow, 1977.
  • Watching How or Why. New Rochelle, NY: Elizabeth Press, 1977.
  • Cloud, Invisible Air. Rhinebeck, NY: Station Hill, 1978.
  • The Music Variety. Newton, MA: Roxbury Poetry Enterprises, 1976.
  • Time Details of a Tree. New Rochelle, NY: Elizabeth Press, 1979.
  • Lined up Bulk Senses. Providence, RI: Burning Deck Press, 1980.
  • now there’s-a-morning-hulk of the sky. 1981.
  • Waters, Places, a Time. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow, 1983.
  • Windows / Walls / Yards / Ways. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow, 1994.
  • Readiness Enough Depends on (edited by Robert Grenier). Copenhagen, Denmark, & Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2000.


  • Farther North. S. Charters, 1969.
  • Country / Harbour / Quiet / Act / Around: Selected rrose (edited by Barrett Wharton. Kensington, CA: This Press, 1978.

Collected editionsEdit

  • Selected Poems (edited by Samuel Charters & Andrea Wyatt Sexton). Berkeley, CA: Oyez, 1971.
  • Collected Poems (edited by Curtis Faville & Robert Grenier). (4 volumes), Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 2010.
  • Areas, Heights, Lights: Collected writings, 1954-1989 (edited by Benjamin Friedlander). New York: Roof Books, 1989.
  • Calligraphy Typewriters: Selected poems (edited by Curtis Faville & Robert Grenier). Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2017.


  • Larry Eigner Letters (edited by Robert Kocik & Joseph Simas). Paris: Moving Letters Press, 1987.
    5 poems by Larry Eigner

    5 poems by Larry Eigner

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[13]

See alsoEdit



  1. LCNAF on-line (Library of Congress Authority Files) lists Eigner's full name as Laurence Joel Eigner
  2. and for many poets, including Eigner, this centered around Charles Olson at Black Mountain College in the mid-20th Century.
  3. Eigner was able to "create shifting constellations of words in space whose musical and visual designs are realized in a language at once immediate and highly abstract, according to his publisher's page at Stanford University Press's Eigner page
  4. "Introduction to ''The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner'' by Robert Grenier". Retrieved 2011-06-24. 
  5. the physicality of each line is something that Ron Silliman notes in many places, including his widely read poetry weblog See External links below
  6. "Roof Books". Roof Books. Retrieved 2011-06-24. 
  7. "Larry Eigner (1927-1996) - An online tribute edited by Loss Pequeño Glazier (Eigner's online tribute/obituary page at SUNY-Buffalo's Electronic Poetry Center)". Retrieved 2011-06-24. 
  8. from Grenier's"Introduction" to The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner
  9. particularly Ron Silliman and Charles Bernstein, both of whom are on record as admirers of his work
  10. Great Anthology: In the American Tree article from the Academy of American Poets website
  11. "Black Mountain poets - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia". 2011-06-11. Retrieved 2011-06-24. 
  12. "Larry Eigner Biography - (1927–1996), In the American Tree, Selected Poems, Things Stirring Together or Far Away". Retrieved 2011-06-24. 
  13. Search results = au: Larry Eigner, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, July 26,, 2014.

External linksEdit

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